Incumbent East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson is gearing up his re-election campaign for this fall’s town elections. Elected two years ago into a town accused of being mismanaged, Wilkinson came into office with the mantra “the new sheriff is in town.” (He said those words to me a few days after he was sworn in). Within days of being elected, the Wilkinson team began proposing reorganizations, with suggested retirements, downsizing, and coming up with new ideas on how to raise town funds while cutting town taxes. There is no doubt he has been successful at restoring complete order to town government, which was floating in rudderless decline before his arrival.
So you would think his re-election should be a slam-dunk, and actually I think it will be, but with a few surprises. Just recently Wilkinson, a registered Republican, has gone on the offensive, attempting to have signatures gathered so he can be included on the Independence Party line after already securing the Republican and Conservative line on the ballot for EH Supervisor. This has of course ruffled the feathers of the Independence Party Chairperson Elaine Jones, who has in fact endorsed Zachary Cohen, the Democratic nominee for the Independent Supervisor slot on the November ballot. [expand]
Under a NY State law called the Wilson-Pakula Act, Wilkinson cannot get the Independence Party nomination without the endorsement of the Independence Party. Okay, so what does this all really mean? Is it that Wilkinson is concerned about losing and wants every vote he can get in a close election? This reporter says no. Is it perhaps a reaction to make news and embarrass Cohen and Jones? Maybe.
I believe the action may be unwise. There seems to be a pattern that Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley have undertaken that has raised their negatives, meaning, personal dislike among all the voters. Without poll data I can’t say to what extent, but even within his base in Montauk, Wilkinson’s policies have lost him support.
For example, his suggestion that the town sell the Montauk commercial dock wasn’t popular. As for Quigley, she seems to enjoy the limelight and makes no apologies for her behavior, which rubs some people the wrong way. Yet the new Republican majority has the town running like a fine Swiss watch, and unless some unforeseeable scandal or event happens, Wilkinson will win reelection, but not perhaps by the wide margin of two years ago.
Wilkinson has a strong personality and he doesn’t seem to like criticism in print or at board meetings. He can be charming but he can also be gruff. As for Cohen, he has a tough sell to the electorate. Taxes were lowered, the size of town government was cut and the budget is “Len Bernard” solid. Cohen, even with a strong Democratic base and some help from Jones and the Independence Party, will have some extremely heavy lifting to do in order to convince anybody that Wilkinson doesn’t know what he is doing as Town Supervisor. [/expand]